Monday, May 18, 2009

The Aphrodisiac of Europe

CHOCOLATE!  That's what I'm talking about!

I’m in the land of Chocolate!  It ranks as the favorite flavor of most Americans. And yet, few of us know the unique origins of this popular treat.  The story of chocolate spans more than 2,000 years and began in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America where cacao first grew. Chocolate is made from the seeds of the cacao tree. 

The first people known to have made chocolate were the ancient cultures of Mexico and Central America. These people, including the Maya and Aztec, mixed ground cacao seeds with various seasonings to make a spicy, frothy drink.  While in Copan our guide explained the way the Mayan Indians used this “spice”.  From the information I received from the guide, the drink they made was a far cry from the chocolate we drink today being very bitter in taste.  

Later, the Spanish conquistadors brought the seeds back home to Spain, where new recipes were created. Eventually the drink’s popularity spread throughout Europe. When it finally arrived in Europe they had the foresight to add sugar to the drink! Since then, new technologies and innovations have changed the texture and taste of chocolate, but it still remains one of the world’s favorite flavors.  Presently the Ivory Coast exports more cacao than anyone and mainly to the Netherlands, who are the biggest buyers of this product.

I have had various types of chocolate in the States, generally those made by Hershey chocolate.  Later, when my taste for chocolate improved, I found that the best chocolate came from Europe.  Now that I’m here, I have discovered that Germany and Italy have marvelous chocolates.  I have had Swiss chocolate in the past and was very please to see that while flying on Swiss Air we received a complimentary piece of chocolate.  On the trains in Germany they passed out chocolates.  If you have a chocolate fetish – this is the place to come!

I took various photos in Florence of the wonderful chocolates I bought at Gilli’s Chocolate Shop.  Here they sold chocolates, marzipan, pastries and very fancy alcoholic drinks AND the best, richest hot cocoa I’ve ever had.  Below are photos of the shop, the outside eating area and some of the delicious products they sold.


And, if you want to swoon – get a load of this “chocolate fountain”.  I found it flowing in the window of a candy shop in Venice!  You can even buy a bottle of Chocolate Grappa (a kind of schnapps I was told), but I didn’t make that purchase.

Plus, the Gilli Shop has the corner on packing your purchase!  From a plain ivory box with a gold ribbon, or a few flowers on the box, to a beautiful artificial floral arrangement that tops your box of chocolate, this makes this a perfect gift.

So, with chocolates in hand we will depart Venice tomorrow for Frankfurt and the last leg of my journey.


  1. Aaaaah, chocolate! Do you know that Honduras grows one of the finest cacaos or so they say? I want to find one of those plants!

  2. Sharon,
    I've been following your European vacation posts and you keep outdoing your prior posts with each new post.
    And I would have thought that the French would have claimed to be the masters of chocolate delites.
    I'm enjoying reading about your European vacation, keep it coming.